Youth’s Bright Day

Stirrup iron to stirrup iron
They rode the dusty track,
She sat upon the dapple grey
He rode the fiery black.

They pushed along at a faster trot
To beat the fading light,
Behind them lay 30 miles
of running from the night.

The haunting thoughts of the dark events
Seemed to lurk close all day
In the urgent beat of the horse’s feet
On the dry and stony clay.

But Oh! how a man’s heart
Can turn him far away,
From what he knows is right
And how he finds his way

And in that moment of beating pride
He throws his weight around,
To break and bust his very world
And leave a man on the ground.

While she is caught in a rushing stream
Of regrets and hopes and fear,
While the long dusk shadows wheel them on
Through the tall forests so near.

The horses seem caught in the very mood
And hardly show the strain,
Of pushing hard all day long
And the black still leans on curb and chain.

He knows the country pretty well
From working stock and plant,
As a keen young blonde haired bloke
In old Mac’s mustering camp.

As now they climb the snowgum ridge
The horses show the foam,
And push along the old wing fence
Where the bucks were turned for home.

It can’t be far to that sheltered hollow
And the bleached and leaning hut,
By a spring-fed mountain stream
Where the days long ride will cut.

And in a moment of feeling free and wild
From the burdens of his trials,
He gives the black his fiery head
and puts him at the rails.

But the spring in his horse is nearly done
And he clips the top of the fence,
To land in a messy heap
Of man and leather and beast.

And now, in their own good time
Her thoughts return to where he lay,
It may be 50 years down the track
But it still takes her breath away.

For even now she feels the passion
As she sits in the old cane chair,
Dappled by the golden grapes
In the cool verandah air.

While in the yard the boisterous kids
Romp with the dogs at play,
And together with the old grey woman
Enjoy their youth’s bright day.

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The Hat Breaker

Now Billy the Breaker
Had a way with horses,
Kind hands, gentle touch
Patient but firm voices.

His yard rails were a place to lean
And yarn about chestnuts, duns and greys,
The bone of the leg, the carriage of head
Of fillys and colts and bays.

And always a few young blokes
Would be draped about the fence,
Dead keen students of breaking
Who listened little, and learned even less.

But they knew how the wear horseman’s gear
Belts, pouches, plaited this ‘n that,
Boots and white moleskins
And mostly a brand new hat.

And it could be noted that Billy’s hat
Was a little battered and far from new,
A sweatband stain, a bushman’s bash
And a few holes where the dog had a chew.

There was one who never left Billy’s side
A true apprentice of the trade,
A young bloke who listened wide eyed,
From dawn to dusk in that dusty yard.

Observation was this student’s key
And one thing he knew before the rest,
Was that the man in battered hat
Knew his horses by far the best.

So he figured to be a horseman
Of skill and some renown,
You’d have to have your hat
All knocked about and leaky in the crown.

So from that moment of sparkling wisdom
The dog knew his trade and job,
Was to catch and break those stiff new hats
Of the yard rail expert mob.

It took some skill and a well placed nip
To catch the bronco hat.
First a bite on the heel and foot
of the bloke as he leant to pat.

With a yelp and curse of “Bloody Hell!”
The strapling snapped up straight,
and off his head with a wild duck flight
Flew his untrained bucking hat.

It was man and hat and dog in flight
In the dusty yard and shute,
And the dog was far to quick
To be caught by the flying boot.

He ducked and rolled as he eyed the hat
In its mad and spinning flight.
And with a fearless leap he sprang
To bring down its furry might.

With his paw upon the trembling brim
He tore at the dome and crown
For if he let this young hat win
His chances of breaking it were gone.

He felt his teeth sink deep and hard
Into something soft and frail,
Just as an angry boot
Fair caught him under the tail.

He was torn from his task
With a reeling spin,
With bulging eyes and throbbing tongue
Where his own teeth had sunken in.

He landed in a dusty heap
and heard an angry yell,
From that he knew his task was lost
And it was time to take a spell.

Slinking under the peppercorn tree
He reflected on his haste,
And the quiet manner of his master’s ways
And he dumbly knew his mistake.

While all the while the top rail mob
Laughed at their mate’s misfortune,
But not a one caught the drift
Of the hat breaker’s excursion.

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The Stockyard in the Sky

With saddle grease on my trouser seat
And whiskers on my chin,
I’ve been 5 days in the saddle
And it’s time for turning in.

Rolling out my welcome swag
On a bed of springy grass,
I’ll rest my weary bones
And let the cool evening pass.

In the blue-black moonless sky
The stars are a magic sight,
Filling the darkest corner
With sparkling diamond light.

From the southern cross to orion
Along the milky way,
The landscape of the heavens
Reflects the mountain’s lay.

While the camping horses graze
About the open plains,
And send me on my dreaming ways
To the lilting rattle of hobble chains.

Now in the mists of my sleepy mind
A ghost horse comes to me,
“come ride with me to the milky way
Where the horses are running free.”

I see some horses in the dark
On the back roads of briagolong,
The striking steel shoes make a spark
On the quartz as they trot along.

The horses push to the river bank
Excited fearless and keen,
Then plunge to breast the water
And swim the flooded stream.

Now i give my horse his head
On a sunny high plains day,
To freely canter as he will
Across the pretty valley way.

We’re pushing through snow and flurries
It’s cold but we’re rugged and warm,
The horses push on regardless
To find a safe camp in the storm.

I can hear the silent ground
The buggers have gone from camp,
Are they grazing the snowgum scrub
Or homeward at a hobbled tramp.

The night-horse snorts all lonely
I ask him to find his mates,
As we swing along the starry path
Past the dream-maker’s gates.

The track is not scrubby or bushy
And my mount is all horses i’ve known,
The ground is not earth and rocky
We are searching for horses renowned.

Through the shadows and shafts of starlight
The legendary mob runs fast,
The good horses of kids and heroes
Have all gathered from the past.

They stand and call my night hack
To run the milky-way wood,
Follow their winding track
And find the home paddock for good.

We race onto orion’s sword
The wing fence that will show the way,
Out along the shinning ridge
To the stockyard in the sky.

The old books call it orion
It’s all in the beholders eye,
To others it’s just a saucepan
But i see the stockyard in the sky.

It’s where all the good horses go
When they leave this mortal land,
To the north of the milky-way scrub
The wing fence and stockyard stand.

Apples for Your Horse

“This is tomorrow’s apple Ned”
The old man told his mount,
As he planted the core behind the shed
Up there at Blair’s bush camp.

Since then generations of stockmen
Have caught the descendants of Ned,
With a tempting sweet apple gift
From that old tree behind the shed.

The tree that survived the ’39 fires
When the shed was burnt right down,
And has lived through 100 winter snows
To fruit each year at muster time.

Then a new way of thinking
Considered the tree a curse,
And the modern enlightened ranger
Cut it down; “it’s a weed of course”.

Youngs Hut

So you’ve come to Young’s to get away
From the things that nag and hark,
The places and paces that spoil a day
And shadowy thoughts that turn so dark.

I guess you’ve come from salty airs
By the long white sandy coast,
Where scrubby bush and headland pairs
Make sheltered bays for bobbing boats.

Or maybe your house of pretty hues
Is lost in the city’s wilderness,
Where millions of souls ache for views
Of something better than ugliness.

Then again you could be off the plains
Where many miles make up a day,
And the sky is big, your heart is big,
There’s little to get in your way.

Wherever your home, wherever your place
I’m pleased you’ve come this way.
Because whatever your way, whatever your face,
You’ll be richer when on your way.

Mountain Dreaming

The pretty patterns of the valley
Are the order of the tribes,
With neatly packed parcels
Of the people and their lives.

All wrapped firmly and securely
In the wooded arms of the hills,
The place of people is safe and sure
From the mountains and their wills.

For the valleys and the coastlines
Provide our every need,
From the bookshelf and the cooking fire
To our family and our creed.

So people of the star-filled place
From the valley’s ordered length,
Find room in your wandering hearts
For your dreaming, and it’s strength.

And yet when we take a moment
To breathe the seaside breeze,
Or lift our blinkered eyes
To the place above the trees.

The sea will spray us
With her diamonds salty white,
And the mountains roll a fog
Down from the cold as crystal night.

To touch us with the very wilderness
And stir us from our haste,
So our hearts cry to go wandering
To find the dreaming place.

So people of this star filled place,
From the valley’s ordered length,
Find room in your wandering hearts
For your dreaming, and it’s strength.

Way above the ragged spurs
In the belly of the clouds,
You’ll meet the master of the patterns
As the Dream-Spinner, spins her charms

To take you one a journey
Through time at another pace,
To show your wandering heart
The mountain dreaming place.

Where the mountain air and stars
Will light your darkest part,
Then land you softly in the valley
With the dreaming in your heart.

So people of the star filled place,
From the valley’s ordered length,
Find room in your wandering hearts,
For your dreaming and it’s strength.